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Park City High teacher speaks out after racist messaging found in classroom

Feb 11, 2022, 11:15 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 4:22 pm

PARK CITY, Utah — A Jewish teacher at Park City High School is calling for change after he said students found racist hate speech and an anti-Semitic symbol drawn on a desk in his classroom.

He’s sharing his worries over the wellbeing and safety of students, saying that since the drawings were found, he’s taken in even more reports of racism around the school campus.

The Park City School District said they’ve opened an investigation since the discovery was made.

In 20 years of teaching kids about history and the world, Josh Goldberg can’t believe he’s having to focus on the kind of education he found himself taking on this week.

“I never expected this symbol of hatred to appear in the sacred space of my classroom. Never,” he said.

He said that last Thursday, students found a swastika and the n-word drawn and written under a desk.

Three to four students saw the drawings, Goldberg explained. They immediately brought it to his attention.

Goldberg is Jewish, and said in the last couple weeks, he’s been teaching about the persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages.

His classroom is also the space where the Jewish Student Union Club meets, Goldberg said.

“It took me some time to process,” Goldberg recounted of his reaction to the hate message. “This type of thing is very personally painful. Most of my family was murdered in the Holocaust.”

He believed markings were a couple weeks fresh, because he said he cleans the desks and occasionally turns them over.

Goldberg said he reported it to the principal the next day, who told him they’d have the custodial crew remove the swastika and n-word over the weekend.

The Park City School District told KSL TV they’re investigating and taking the situation seriously, and that the principal sent an email to staff, telling them about what happened and talking about developing a plan moving forward.

A district employee said they want to make sure they investigate completely before moving forward.

But Goldberg knew the hateful graffiti wasn’t the only thing that needed to be addressed.

“It took me some time to really figure out what I was going to do with my students, because they had heard about it. Some of them had seen it,” he said.

This week, he decided to turn it into a teaching opportunity. Goldberg described how he sparked a class discussion on hate symbols and racism.

It opened the flood gates, Goldberg said, and in the days since that discussion, he recounted how students began coming forward with their own personal stories.

“This isn’t the first time this has occurred, as I’ve found out now, because many students have come out and now spoken to me about what they’ve been experiencing,” Goldberg shared.

Goldberg said he’s now trying to collect and document those incidents, most of which are alleged to have happened on Park City High School grounds.

He’s also critically thinking about how the district can move forward.

Goldberg believes the reporting and documentation system for these kinds of incidents needs to be streamlined.

“We need a means and a methodology to report these incidents, where kids feel safe,” Goldberg urged. “It’s been suggested [to use] the SafeUT app, but that’s no way to really understand what’s going on. It needs to be a local, district-supported system where the kids feel supported, and they feel like they can express themselves.”

He also wants additional staff training on how to respond to reports of racism, and for the district to implement a comprehensive K-12 curriculum that is age appropriate and nationally vetted.

“To stop this systemic hatred, we need a systemic approach,” Goldberg said. “Education is the key.”

The United Jewish Federation of Utah said it has taken a report of the incident, and recommends anyone who is the subject of or finds hate speech to report it to the Anti-Defamation League.

If someone is intimidated, feeling threatened, or physically harmed, or if property is damaged or destroyed — they urge people to call police.

The United Jewish Federation of Utah is asking the Park City School District to find the person responsible for the graffiti and deal with the situation accordingly.

As Goldberg now teaches painful lessons from the past, he’s hoping this creates change for the future.

“We have to challenge hate, hate speech, hate symbolism everywhere we find them. And if they go ignored or go underreported, people live in fear and it’s allowed to flourish,” Goldberg said. “And I cannot allow that to happen. Not for my children, not for my students, not for myself, and not for my colleagues.”

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Park City High teacher speaks out after racist messaging found in classroom